The Cobram Courier

On the Grapevine

- — Barb Love WITH BARB LOVE

Hello everyone, welcome to On the Grapevine. This is designed to be a newsy, chatty column that offers you an opportunit­y to discuss with me your views, news and happenings.

It is for you and it is about you and the community, so have your input and tell me what you, your family members or organisati­ons are up to.

Tell me what you would like to read about and how I can make this column interestin­g and informativ­e.

I can be contacted at onthegrape­vine@cobramcour­ier.com.au or by phone on 0402 858 877.

Choice awards gold to Cockatoo Grove

Cockatoo Grove, a producer of premium organic olive oils at Cobram Station, has been awarded ‘Gold’ by Choice magazine for its organic Australian extra virgin olive oil.

Twenty-five extra virgin olive oils found on supermarke­t shelves were blind tested and reviewed by a trained Choice panel, which awarded Gold to Cockatoo Grove, the only organic producer, with a score of 87 per cent out of 100. Second placing went to Cobram Estate with 83 per cent and third placing went to Bertolli, also with 83 per cent.

Cockatoo Grove, situated on the banks of the Murray River and boasting red sandy soils, perfect climatic conditions and good access to water via a computer-operated drip system, is owned by Joan and Ken Dugan and began as Cobram Estate in 1996 when the couple bent to the task of planting 25,000 olive trees. Their first harvest netted about 30 tonnes of olives, producing 6000 litres of pure extra virgin oil.

Getting the product on the shelves of the major supermarke­ts and then exporting overseas, it was soon to dominate the domestic market; it was a quality product and had a good name which people recognised.

In 2007, the couple made the decision to sell off the brand to a larger corporatio­n while deciding on the next stage.

Several years later, with the trees continuing to thrive and with organic farming in mind, Cockatoo Grove was born.

A young Cobram man, Ben Lazzarotto, began working for the Dugans 24 years ago as an apprentice studying production and horticultu­re — and he hasn’t looked back. Achieving his diploma, over the years Ben has become invaluable to the company and loves the variety that his role offers in managing the farm and production. He now has his own apprentice, Lewis Mele, 17, who has been with the company for 12 months and is proving to be a great choice, possessing a rare willingnes­s to have a go at anything and do it with a smile.

Beginning their day at 7am, the pair does most of the farm work; a few extras are employed during harvest when they are on the job 12 hours a day over a five- to eightweek period between the end of April and midway through June.

“We generally pick one or two bins to check if they are ready. As they ripen it is better for the oil, but the taste can drop off if they are too ripe. It’s about getting it just right,” Ben said.

“Getting the fruit from the trees requires two of us to operate the shaker and catcher and we always pick any frost-affected trees first. Frosts can burn the fruit, which affects the flavour.”

There is pride in the man in relation to the role that he, Lewis, his wife Jodi Lazzarotto, and Emily Nolan, 20, play at Cockatoo Grove.

While they are only a small group, they are proud of their individual roles and determined to ensure the product is the best it can be.

This recognitio­n from Choice puts the company ahead of much larger producers in both quality and process.

Jodi Lazzarotto has been with the company for seven years and supervises the processing and bottling in the state-of-the-art facilities and cool room, assisted in every aspect by Emily who also shows she is quickly gaining a sound knowledge of the procedures.

Despite their small number, the team guarantees that the fruit will be harvested and in the stainless steel tanks at a constant low temperatur­e within four hours, ensuring the oil maintains its freshness.

The farm produces two varieties of green olives — corregiola and frantoio — chosen for their fine oil quality and consistenc­y.

To be classified as extra virgin olive oil, the oil must meet quality standards — and health-conscious consumers will generally pay a premium for a product that is considered to be one of the healthiest oils, full of beneficial antioxidan­ts.

Production today generally averages between 50,000 and 80,000 litres, and Cockatoo Grove oil is available on the shelves of Woolworths stores throughout Australia. Locally, it can be purchased not only at Woolworths, but also at Manto Produce, the Big Strawberry and Murray River Butchers in Cobram.

▯ Footnote: Olive oil does not mature in the bottle like wine. It should be kept in a cool, dark place and be consumed within two years of bottling.

Essential Theatre at Byramine this Sunday

This coming Sunday, February 20, Essential Theatre will perform Shakespear­e’s As You Like It, as part of its Shakespear­e in The Vines tour.

Essential Theatre profession­ally re-interprets classic texts for modern audiences, and will deliver this vibrant and engaging production outdoors at Byramine Homestead from 6.30pm.

Directed by Sharon Davis and designed by Zoe Rouse, the talent of each performer is outstandin­g and it is definitely worth booking a ticket.

Organised by Moira Arts Inc, bookings must be made online at: www.trybooking.com

Tickets are $55 per person, $50 for members and $20 for students.

Gates open at 5pm, so bring along a picnic. No BYO alcohol; however it can be purchased at Byramine.

The performanc­e will begin at 6.30pm.

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